Chambers oppose storage of nuclear waste |

Chambers oppose storage of nuclear waste

Susan Wood

Nevada chambers on both ends of the Silver State are joining lawmakers to try to keep the fastest-growing state in the nation a nuke-free zone.

The Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce followed the lead of its Las Vegas counterpart Tuesday morning by passing a resolution opposing the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain just east of Beatty off Highway 95.

The U.S. Department of Energy has targeted the site for the relocation of 77,000 tons of nuclear waste from states as far-flung as those east of the Mississippi River.

“You would think these states would be interested in the transportation of it. It has the potential for disaster,” chamber Executive Director Kathleen Farrell said. “But we are in a bit of a mess because it has to go somewhere.”

The federal government will make the final determination this summer, pending the results of a suitability study of the site.

Right now, there’s a fight over whether guidelines should be developed by by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the Environmental Protection Agency.

U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Reno, sought support from Nevada’s regional chambers to offset the support of the relocation by the U.S. Congress and the state’s chambers.

The 2nd District congressman thinks enough thought hasn’t been given to the dangers surrounding transporting such a dangerous material.

“The environmental statement did not address the transportation issue,” he said. Gibbons called the fight “a classic case of David and Goliath. Our biggest challenge is the education of the hazards,” he said.

Nevada was considered only one of six states suggested by the federal government in 1987 to store nuclear waste, but in the long run it was the one that got ramrodded through when a Louisiana congressman turned a dispute with a Nevada legislator into a law that took the other five out of the fray, he said.

It doesn’t help that much of Nevada is federal land, the opposition cited.

“They’re more or less thumbing their nose at us,” Gibbons said, adding that fellow congressmen on the House floor accuse him of using the “not-in-my-backyard” argument.

But as a geologist, Gibbons takes issue with moving and storing nuclear waste in such a seismically active state.

Then, there’s the sheer nature of car accidents to consider.

The truck route is believed to include Route 93 over Hoover Dam, where many tractor-trailers have jackknifed in that area near Boulder City.

In addition, the first responders to the scene – area fire departments – are not qualified nor equipped to handle nuclear waste.

Another factor is concern for the West’s primary water supply source.

“It’s going to travel on a lot of roads. What happens if nuclear waste pours into the Colorado River?” was the ominous question posed by Gibbons’ district spokesman Robert Uithoven.

Uithoven contends there are alternatives. Los Alamos Nuclear Power Plant, for example, is studying methods of breaking down the waste on site.

“There are ways to do it, albeit with millions of dollars. But what’s it going to cost to ship and clean up a spill?” he asked.

To alleviate the potential of a spill near an urban area, Sen. Ray Shaffer, D-North Las Vegas, introduced a bill last week to bar the transportation of nuclear waste within 10 miles of a city or town in Nevada.

The measure was meant as a scaled-down version of what appears to be the inevitable – Nevada will probably be the designation for the nation’s nuclear waste.

“The resolutions sound good, but Congress won’t pay any attention to them,” Shaffer said of the chambers’ symbolic gestures.

Instead of just saying no to nukes in Nevada, the state senator hopes for a compromise – one that puts into place some safeguards such as an online tracking system for residents to monitor the movement of the loads.

The bill is currently in the Transportation Committee.

Gov. Kenny Guinn has proposed a $5 million budget to help fight nuclear waste, while the Department of Energy has hired on a high-profile law firm with a $20 million retainer to defend its position.

Across the state line, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt signed legislation last week that bans nuclear waste from the state, The Associated Press reported.

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